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Batanese war dance


During the feast of San Jose de Ivana, male dancers representing moros and cristianos fight each other in dance palo-palo, named after the wooden sticks used as weapons. Ivana, Batanes, 1991. (Renato s. Rastrallo, Cultural Center of the Philippines Library Collection)
Encyclopedia of Philippine Art vol.1 (1994), pp. 413

Two groups of male dancers in distinctly differently colored costumes and holding in each hand a fighting stick, standing in two files. They dance to a series of band music with varying beats, using thin sticks to the rhythm to simulate a fight. It is part of a celebration in honor of a patron saint of each town or village.

Reasons for selection

It is an all-male ritualized, stylized war dance performed during the annual town fiesta celebration in honor of a patron saint. It is accompanied by band music. It represents the armed struggle of Christians and Muslims, and is now endangered by the influx of modern entertainment such as movies and modern dances.

Area where performed

It is performed in the towns of the province of Batanes in the northernmost part of the Philippine archipelago. Each town and village has its own performances.

Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Dance

Detailed explanation

Palo-palo is a folk art traditionally performed once a year during the celebration of a fiesta in honor of a patron saint. Each town and village used to have its own groups of players which are selected and trained for the dance each year by a dance master. They perform only once on the day of the fiesta and are disbanded after the celebration. A town or village band is also organized to play the traditional music called foo by the dance.

Usually a month-long rehearsal is needed before the performance day, and it is performed in the town or village square with the towns folk and visitors as audience. It is one of a number of folk dances performed usually in the afternoon of the fiesta day.

The costumes are usually colored red for one line and blue for the other, red being used by those representing Muslims and blue for the Christians.

The tradition probably began at the inception of Christianization in the last decades of the 18th century or early 19th century, by Spanish missionaries. It may have been derived from the moro-moro theater of the rest of Christian Philippines.

During its most popular time, every town and village performed it. This was in the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century. But as American and modern entertainment developed, many villages have given it up, but it is still being performed annually in the towns of Basco, Mahatao, Ivana and Sabtang.

Publication and textual documentation

1994 The Ivatan in CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art vol.1, pp. 414-415.
Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines. In English.

Audio documentation

not yet available

Visual documentation

File video at the Cultural Center of the Philippines photo and video documentation collection.

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

does not exist

Data provider

Dr. Florentino H. Hornedo
Ateneo de Manila University
Address: Department of Filipino, School of Arts and Sciences, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines